Category Archives: #nowplaying

Son Lux

I wrote most of this post about Son Lux drummer Ian Chang’s 2017 solo EP while sitting in a dentist’s office last summer, waiting for the local anesthesia to kick in before getting a filling put in. Here I am, sitting in the same dentist’s office — might even be the same chair — about to get another filling, starting a post about one of the tunes Son Lux has made available ahead of the February 9th release of their new Brighter Wounds album.

Coincidence?

Yes, aside from the fact that I need to be better about flossing.

“Slowly” has quickly (sorry, couldn’t help myself) jumped way up my list of favorite Son Lux tunes. I feels like a bit of a departure — narrower in scope, maybe, and more personal, but no less ambitious. In fact, this is one of the most interesting examples of deconstruction I’ve heard in a long time. “Slowly” strips the classic R&B form to its basic elements, something the band manages to do with great precision thanks to Chang’s phenomenal internal clock.

Take a listen below. And don’t forget to floss before you go to bed tonight.

Son Lux — “Slowly” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet

This came in the mail yesterday — a late Christmas present from my mom, who loves to surprise me with music that’s obscure or experimental or otherwise off my radar. She’s a devoted listener of Paul Shugrue’s Out of the Box show on WHRV, and she has such a great ear, especially when it comes to atypical combinations of sounds, which is what you’ll find on Ladilikan, the collaborative album released last year by Malian griot ensemble Trio Da Kali and the long-running San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet.

While the result certainly feels novel, this isn’t a case of worlds colliding. The common ground here seems harmonious and comfortable — comforting, even. They included a cover of a gospel tune called “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away,” and it reminds me a little of the uber-soothing rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Slumber My Darling” sung by Alison Krauss on Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology. According to the extensive liner notes in the vinyl edition of Ladilikan, Kronos’ musical director fell for the song after hearing Mahalia Jackson’s version, and Trio Da Kali vocalist Hawa ‘Kassé Mady’ Diabate — daughter of Malian singing legend Kassé Mady Diabate — renders the song beautifully.

Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet — “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Lucy Dacus

I’ve been in the list-making bunker, trying to figure out how to wrangle a whole mess of albums I really enjoyed this year, but I thought I’d step out briefly to join in the celebration of Lucy Dacus’ new tune, “Night Shift.”

It’s the lead single off her upcoming album, Historian (out March 2, pre-order here), and it’s a triumph, bursting at the seams with the brilliance that made “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” such a breakout success, including:

  • Astoundingly vivid and memorable lyrics, with an opening that grabs your ears like few I’ve heard: “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit.”
  • Emotional intelligence that permeates every word, with brutally incisive lines like “You don’t deserve what you don’t respect, don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect.”
  • Vocals so rich and ranging that you feel like you’re along for the journey the lyrics describe.
  • A lengthy coda that opens the song up dynamically in a cathartic combination of resignation and hope.

It was that exceptional coda that stood out when I saw her perform “Night Shift” at The National in 2016, but having an opportunity to sit with the quieter moments has been rewarding, as is always the case with Dacus’ music. Forgive me if I’ve said something similar in the past while singing her praises, but Dacus’ lyrics comprise some of my favorite writing anywhere, in much the same way that John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats lyrics feel like they transcend their form. Maybe award-winning novels are in her future, as well.

On more than one level, this song makes me look forward 2018. 2017 was a year in which I found myself enjoying more new music than ever while feeling less inspired to write about it in personal terms. Some of that was time scarcity, some was political-shitstorm-related paralysis, some was focusing on writing assignments in which my life didn’t figure prominently. But “Night Shift” brings me back to a place of excitement and energy. Some musicians make you want to run to the nearest instrument and start noodling; Dacus makes me want to start typing.

Speaking of which, back to the bunker for me. Hope y’all enjoy “Night Shift” as well.

Lucy Dacus — “Night Shift” [Spotify/YouTube]

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Was just in a crowded kitchen, mashing potatoes, listening to Dori Freeman’s new album, and thinking about how great a Thanksgiving soundtrack it makes. It hit me during “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog,” a tune written by Freeman’s grandfather, Willard Gayheart — Letters Never Read is what it sounds like to be surrounded by family. Carrying forward traditions and putting your own spin on them. Enjoying the company and quirks of aunts, uncles, kids, and in-laws. Her arrangement of “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” is as simple as it gets — just her voice — like an old recipe rendered with care. It made for a moment of calm contentment amid a chaos for which I’m very fortunate.

Whatever you’re spinning, I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.

Dori Freeman — “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Stockholm Syndrone

The return of Stockholm Syndrone! With a slight Halloween tie-in!

The three year old and I have been hitting the Trolls soundtrack pretty hard in the car lately. If she gets her way, we start with “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!” (Their caps, not mine. And I’m not linking to it. I can’t risk the YouTube video playing before I can click pause.) If I get my way, we start with “Hair Up,” which is made more bearable by the fact that it incorporates the melody of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King,” the highly recognizable Edvard Grieg composition.

You’ve heard it, I swear. It’s used in all sorts of movies and songs, and I found a dynamite orchestral version on an album called Fright Night: Music that Goes Bump in the Night earlier today, so technically it qualifies as Halloween music?

Here’s my favorite version — the one from the soundtrack for The Social Network. Happy Halloween!

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — “In the Hall of the Mountain King” [Spotify/iTunes]

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The Blackbyrds

This is a fun one.

First, I have to say thanks to Lacy, wherever you are, for damaging this copy of City Life enough that it ended up in Deep Groove’s sidewalk sale but not so much that a wood glue peel couldn’t bring it back to life. That’s the sidewalk sale sweet spot.

Second, I want to share the lyrics “Rock Creek Park,” the album’s impossibly funky opening track:

Doing it in the park
Doing it after dark, oh, yeah
Rock Creek Park, oh, yeah
Rock Creek Park

That’s the long and short of it. Direct, concise, perfect. Extra credit for how much I’m looking forward to playing this for Mrs. YHT’s parents, who live in Northern Virginia and drive through Rock Creek Park regularly. I’m positive they’ll get a kick out of it, if they’re not already fans. It’s hard to imagine people listening to this song and not digging it.

Speaking of widespread appreciation, I’ve also been having fun looking through WhoSampled at all the songs that incorporate snippets of “Rock Creek Park.” Here’s a partial list — see if you can pick out where it appears in each of these:

And here’s the real deal:

The Blackbyrds — “Rock Creek Park” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Dave Van Ronk

Another gem I snagged at Deep Groove’s sidewalk sale last weekend: Dave Van Ronk’s No Dirty Names LP.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw it, in large part because I spent a couple of weeks recently binge-listening to “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” I’m not sure how that started, but Inside Llewyn Davis must be involved on some level, given that Oscar Isaac performs the song in the film. Then again, I didn’t know until, like, right now that the movie was partially inspired by Van Ronk’s autobiography.

Looking through DVR’s discography I see that No Dirty Names came out in 1966, two years after he released a pair of albums in the same year: Inside Dave Van Ronk, which I’m assuming led to the film’s title, and Just Dave Van Ronk, which I pulled out of my dad’s collection a few years back. I’m not sure whether that was before or after the movie came out — just that the album had some value on Discogs and looked interesting.

I’ve come to admire his voice a great deal. You’ll often see the word “growl” associated with how he sang, and No Dirty Names is full of examples why. Opening track “One Meatball” is outstanding in that respect — so much attack in his voice. Same with “Keep It Clean,” which immediately sounded familiar, probably because of Willie Watson’s version. If memory serves, Watson may have even performed it with the Dave Rawlings Machine at the National in Richmond in 2015. Can’t wait for their show there in December.

I digress… but isn’t that what’s great about folk music? You bring up one album and next thing you know you’re three degrees of separation away with a whole mess of amazing music in between.

Dave Van Ronk — “Keep It Clean” [Spotify/iTunes]

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